New Delhi: Finally, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Relief and Rehabilitation Act has come about. That a key provision - land for those displaced by irrigation projects - has been sacrificed is another matter.
The deletion happened in the short window of the Bill being passed in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. After the Lok Sabha approved it, it offered hope to those displaced by irrigation projects, especially since it was scheduled to have retrospective effect, in terms of compensation and relief and rehabilitation.
However, the Act ensures monetary compensation for those displaced by such projects.
Under the 'land-for-land' provision, an acre of land was to be given to every displaced family within the command area of an irrigation project.
The concept of land as compensation for land lost was established in the case of the long-drawn struggle for rehabilitation of those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar project. In 1979, a tribunal was set up to ensure this procedure was followed.
The land Bill promised this policy would be followed for all such projects. But on being taken up by the Rajya Sabha, the Bill underwent surgical changes almost overnight - off went the 'land-for-land' clause for irrigation projects, as well as the retrospective relief and rehabilitation coverage. Also removed, was the need for a social impact assessment for irrigation projects, which would have prevented gagging of the displaced.
In this case, the surgeon was Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who had worked hard to get the Bill to Parliament and ensure it was passed. Later, Ramesh said, soon after the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, he was under pressure from the Madhya Pradesh government to remove the 'land-for-land' provision. However, he ensured the clause was retained for Dalits and Scheduled Tribes, for all projects.
The only consolation the minister had to offer was there wouldn't be more large, Sardar Sarovar-type dams.
In the Sardar Sarovar project, 11,000 families were provided land to compensate for the land they lost in Gujarat and Maharashtra. However, a similar number of families are yet to receive land in Madhya Pradesh.
As such, the removal of the 'land-for-land' provision is a victory for states such as Madhya Pradesh that were reluctant to provide land, despite court rulings. It has also undone the decades-long struggle for land for those displaced by irrigation projects in the Narmada valley, spearheaded by activist Medha Patkar. Sanjay Parikh, a lawyer who has argued for Patkar in many cases, says irrigation projects take away farming land and homes and money can't compensate for that.
Patkar mocks the Act's title. "It means money is good enough compensation for the loss of livelihood caused by acquisition," she says. "What was the political compulsion of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government that it dropped it (the clause) under pressure from a BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government?"
For Jairam Ramesh, the law meant consensus with unwilling political parties. At a recent meeting, he said, "My vision is there would be no need for a land acquisition law in 20 years… that everyone, including the government would purchase land."
More than himself, he might have been consoling all those whom the Act had excluded.